Mikrokosmos (2017-2019)
A performance by Steffani Jemison and Justin Hicks

Western Front, Vancouver, CA (co-commission, 2017)
Mass MoCA, North Adams, MA (2017)
Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, UK (co-commission, 2018) (with Starr Busby)

“Bluesology is the science of how things feel.”
—Gil Scott-Heron

Nottingham Contemporary is pleased to present Mikrokosmos: Another time, this time, one time, a newly commissioned performance by Steffani Jemison and Justin Hicks.

Part study session, part funk band, part opera, Mikrokosmos mines the canon of black American music. This performance uses Gil Scott-Heron’s “We Almost Lost Detroit” (1977) as the raw material for R&B songwriting. Like a game in which new words are formed from existing letters, these live compositions and re-compositions take the form of musical studies, samples, and improvisations. Inspired by Scott-Heron’s own ambitious songbook, Jemison and Hicks reflect upon a wide range of subjects, including Scott-Heron’s biography, police violence in the United States, and the nuclear catastrophe that threatened the city of Detroit in 1966.

In their performances and community collaborations, Hicks and Jemison consider listening, language, and learning through contemporary black American music. Mikrokosmos: Another time, this time, one time culminates a year of workshops and performances by Jemison, commissioned by Nottingham Contemporary, that consider the limits of speech and the politics of quiet, focusing on black American experience.

Statement from the artists:

"Mikrokosmos, like all black music, is a form of speculation. It is “study without end” (Moten and Harney, 2015); blackness is its subject. Anti-languages and alternative literacies have persisted in the African American community since slavery, and Mikrokosmos embraces the spirit of these radical approaches to language and learning. With our collaborators, we derive new proposals for understanding and teaching pitch and rhythm from the black vernacular songbook.

Mikrokosmos is influenced by diverse music pedagogical programs and contexts, including the Orff Schulwerk, the Kodaly method, Béla Bartok's Mikrokosmos piano learning exercises, and the musical learning methodologies of the black American church, among others. The current research uses the melodic and rhythmic conventions of songwriter Gil Scott-Heron as tools for articulating revolutionary melancholy."